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Growth in Online Reference Services
Posted On July 1, 2004
Thomson Gale and xrefer, two companies that provide online ready-reference services to libraries, are teaming up to augment their respective services. Thomson Gale will distribute xreferplus as an added, ready-reference component of Gale Virtual Reference Library to academic, public, school, military, and government libraries in the U.S. and Canada. In turn, a selection of Thomson Gale reference titles is being made available to xreferplus customers.

The synergies gained from joining the content are a big plus for both companies-and for customers. John G. Dove, CEO of xrefer, commented, "xreferplus and Gale Virtual Reference Library are such a good fit on so many levels that, taken together, they present a huge increase in value for our library customers."

Gordon Macomber, president of Thomson Gale, said, "Gale Virtual Reference Library is the definitive e-reference solution for libraries, and the addition of xreferplus, the best ready-reference solution on the market, perfectly complements our platform."

Gale rolled out its Virtual Reference Library (GVRL) in November 2003. It offers a collection of reference titles with an easy-to-use database interface. The GVRL allowed libraries to select from an initial collection of 85 reference sources--encyclopedias, almanacs, and series--to create a customized, integrated online information service with unlimited usage and 24/7 remote access. The service now offers 145 sources and plans to have 300 titles online by the end of 2004.

Gale just announced it would be adding select science and technology reference titles from publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc. and that Sage Publications, Inc. has chosen GVRL to publish its reference titles.

Mick O'Leary reviewed the GVRL in the May 2004 issue of Information Today. He called it a major reference e-book collection that covers a range of subjects and offers notable, high-quality reference works for different levels and audiences. His final comment: "If you're interested in ways that libraries and publishers can counteract the siren song of search engine research, this is one of the best."

xreferplus is a customizable, ready-reference subscription service for corporate, academic, and public libraries. It features full-text, aggregated content from hundreds of reference books, with 1.8 million entries covering a broad range of subjects. xrefer says it now has over 40 publishing partners.

According to xrefer, the first titles to be added from Gale are World of Criminal Justice and World of Sociology, with more to come. And, the company said it would be adding a number of key titles from Merriam-Webster:

  • Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition
  • Merriam-Webster's Geographical Dictionary, Third Edition
  • Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law
  • Merriam-Webster's Medical Desk Dictionary, Revised Edition

Also, xrefer said it will add some new titles from Thames & Hudson, expanding its religion area with Dictionary of Hindu Lore & Legend and Dictionary of Jewish Lore & Legend.

xrefer recently established an advisory board composed of leaders from the library, technology, and academic communities. The company said the board will "help xrefer enhance its understanding of the current library landscape and the needs of librarians, as well as provide insight into developing trends in content and technology strategy." With experienced folks like Peter Scott, Steven Bell, Michéle Cloonan, Thomas Michalak, and others on the board, the company should be getting good guidance.

xrefer claims to offer unique cross-referencing technology, providing links that let users navigate across the collection. Its new and improved Research Mapper, launched earlier this spring, shows users a graphical representation of a network of semantically generated relationships for a search term. Results are clustered into topical areas, and users can magnify a cluster of interest. It's good to see such a usable and helpful implementation of visualization technology.

Both companies seem to be thriving in the e-reference space. Other services offering online reference resources for libraries include Oxford Reference Online (, which first launched in March 2002 with over 100 sources, and netLibrary Reference Center (, which offers more than 400 titles.

Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.

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